Fans of hurling and Test cricket may not seem obvious sporting bedfellows, apart from a love of the putting of wood to ball, but what they share is that they not only have an abiding passion for their sport, they pity any fools who do not love their sport and endlessly tell them how much they are to be pitied. The fools are usually followers of soccer, and not even the splendour of the World Cup currently taking place in Brazil can cause them to moderate their enthusiasm. If anything, it spurs them to even greater heights of snobbery. You can see ample references to the superiority of the long form of cricket here as England and Sri Lanka played out a thrilling draw in the first test, and hurling fans having a pop on the back of the Kilkenny-Galway game yesterday spurred Jackie Cahill to make the following observation:
Why the need, again, for the soccer v hurling comparisons? Enjoy hurling for what it is. A terrific game. And the World Cup ain’t bad either — Jackie Cahill (@cahilljackie) June 22, 2014
Well said, and let’s be blunt about this: it stems from an inferiority complex. Quite apart from the dominance of soccer, hurling and Test cricket have siblings (Gaelic football and the shorter forms of cricket respectively) who cast very long shadows over the game. So any time something really exciting happens in either sport, you have to shout it off the online rooftops for fear of it not being heard at all.
It has to be said though that hurling has a lot to shout about at the moment. After what was near-universally acclaimed as the best Championship year of the lot in 2013, there was a fear that 2014 wouldn’t – couldn’t – live up to those standards, but it’s shaping up nicely with some great matches already played exciting fixtures coming up. With Kilkenny showing some vulnerability against Galway, it would be a brave person who would predict the ultimate winner. All that’s needed to really set things alight would be an up-and-coming teams to beard one of the established favourites.
And lo! what should we have here but Waterford, reeling from the loss of too many old stagers and still waiting for the young Turks to replace them, meeting up with Laois, buoyed by the knowledge that those who are there are an improvement on what went before and eager to get a scalp after a couple of near misses against Galway in the last couple of years.
The odds are still in our favour. Laois will be pleased to have avoided Clare and Tipperary, the other teams they could have drawn once Antrim were placed in with the Munster teams, and Waterford are famously the team everyone thinks they can beat. On the other hand, and don’t tell anyone lest we get accused of arrogance (it’ll be our secret), Laois are the team least likely to freak us out, You have to go all the way back to 1984 to find the last time we lost to them in the League, a run of nine straight wins since. To put this into context, Wexford last beat us in 2008, Offaly in 2007, Antrim in 1994, Mayo in 1986, and Kerry and Roscommon in 1985. Yes kids, you read that right – Mayo and Roscommon. They can be encouraged by those performances against Galway, but we showed some form against Cork ourselves. Add in home advantage, and you have to hope the Ken McGrath benefit the night before gets people in the mood, and we can afford to be confident. With improvements evident at all levels of Laois hurling in recent years – Leinster Minor finalists last year, Under-21 finalists the year before – you sense their time is coming and hurling fans will be able to blow our collective trumpet at the latest step in the predestined final global triumph of the greatest game on Earth. Sorry, Test cricket fans, that’s the way it is. Let’s just put if off for one more year.